I’m sure we all live by the credo that “knowledge is power.” I know I do. I consider knowledge just as important as Vitamin C, B-12, and Niacin. Funny, it sounds like a Wonder Bread commercial.

Speaking of Wonder Bread, did it make any difference to you what the molecular structure of white bread was? I know that as long as it tasted good and my peanut butter spread evenly, I was happy. In other words, the extra knowledge didn’t make much of a difference to me.

I think about those old television commercials that sought to dump oodles and oodles of product information on us. High-powered ad execs zapped us with new terminology that was beyond our comprehension. But we bought the products anyway.

Flash without substance. Sizzle without steak.

There’s a new type of “media” that is dumping oodles and oodles of information on us now: the Internet.

Ooh, bet I snuck up on you with that revelation, eh? But think about this for a moment:

How often do you visit a customer or business to give a quote on a new installation or troubleshoot a mechanical malfunction — only to find that your customer has developed an Internet “attitude”? Thanks to increased access to the Web, they have accumulated a wealth of knowledge about your products and services. Heck, they may know as much about your work as you do.

And what about the price you are quoting? Did you know your customer found a better price at a little supply house in Saskatoon? Can you discount your price just a little bit because of this distant competitor?

Instant Experts

It’s amazing how the Internet can make us all experts — on everything.

And that’s not a bad thing. Remember, knowledge is power.

But knowledge in the wrong hands can be dangerous, too — especially if a person had no prior knowledge of the subject that they now claim to be an expert on.

I was at the recent Radiant Panel Association Conference in Salt Lake City, UT. One of the seminars was entitled “Radiant Nightmares.” Contractors told of horror stories about tube-eating rodents and wacky plumbing jobs.

One contractor told the story about a builder who wanted to install radiant floor heat in a home under construction. The contractor gave him a quote on the job but the builder thought he’d try the installation himself, aided with the knowledge that he could get a very good price on plastic tubing via the Internet.

So the builder laid the tubing and poured the cement floor. He felt confident that he’d done the job correctly and called to ask him to hook up the components.

When the contractor arrived on the job he found two tubes jutting up from the cement floor. He asked Mr. Expert where the other tubing was located. His answer (and I’m paraphrasing): “I got a deal on 6,500 feet of tubing via the Internet” — and he laid it all down in the floor in one continuous loop.

The contractor politely excused himself and left, knowing there was no solution other than to bust up the concrete and start all over again.

Thankfully, our trade is full of common sense contractors — those who appreciate a knowledgeable customer, and not a “know-it-all” customer. But let this week’s column serve as a warning.

Beware of the prospect who greets you at the door with printouts — printouts of your supplier’s product pages. And take heart. If you don’t have all of the answers, ask to borrow the homeowner’s computer and go online and type in “Ask Jeeves.” (Just make sure your prospect is not in the room.)

Now we’re talking knowledge.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); halljr@bnp.com.

Publication date:05/21/2001